Sanders begins to tamp down expectations in Iowa: I won't match Obama's 2008 turnout

Less than a week ahead of the crucial early state vote, Sanders says he's unlikely to replicate "extraordinary" win

By Sophia Tesfaye
Published January 26, 2016 8:09PM (EST)
Bernie Sanders (AP/Andrew Harnik)
Bernie Sanders (AP/Andrew Harnik)

“We need a political revolution,” insurgent populist Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has grown fond of saying on the campaign trail, repeating the mantra during the final town hall before next week's crucial caucuses in Iowa last night. But a day after repeating calls for a political groundswell, Sanders is now managing expectations for the actual turnout for the beginning of the revolution -- the Iowa caucuses.

“Obama in 2008 ran a campaign which is really going to stay in the history books," Sanders explained to reporters on the campaign trail in Iowa on Monday while continuing to argue that higher turnout favors his campaign. "It was an unbelievable campaign. In places they ran out of ballots as I understand it,” Sanders mentioned, according to Buzzfeed. “Do I think that in this campaign that we’re going to match that? I would love to see us do that. I hope we do. But frankly I don’t think we will. What happened in 2008 was extraordinary.”

Although recent public polling has favored Sanders, according to the New York Times, "with the Iowa caucuses six days away, and both campaigns seeing Mrs. Clinton with a slight edge in their private polling":

While Mr. Sanders, a Vermont senator, has advantages in liberal college towns and Mrs. Clinton has deep strength in rural counties, Senator Barack Obama showed in 2008 that Iowa is won with broad support, not with isolated strongholds. Mr. Obama’s sizable pockets of support in most precincts — including in counties won by Mrs. Clinton and former Senator John Edwards — yielded enough delegates for a dominant victory

And the late ground turnout game will be bitterly contested to the end. Pete D’Alessandro, Sanders' Iowa director, told the Times that although the campaign waited until this week to mail fliers with caucus locations to supporters, they now "have many thousands of voter commitment cards, divided by precinct, and we know how many of these voters need to show up on caucus night to win even one or two delegates.”

“That’s the ballgame: making sure enough people get to enough precincts," D’Alessandro said.

“We’re better at organizing than we were, and we’re still getting better in all the right places,” D’Alessandro continued. “But at the precinct level, it’s not just about organization, but the passion and excitement in the room for a candidate. That’s what we’re all fighting to inspire.”

Sanders echoed his political director's confidence in Des Moines today. “We have some fairly sophisticated people who know about the caucus process here in Iowa,” he said. “We understand that if we get all of our votes in certain communities, it is not going to do for us what has to be done. So we are working hard all over the state of Iowa. The hope is that work will pay off.”

"In the last couple of months, we have gained a whole lot of ground and, again, I think we stand a real chance to create a large voter turnout," Sanders told reporters, setting the stage for a tempered victory. "I doubt will be as high as 2008 was, but I think that it will be high enough for us to win in Iowa.”

Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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